Although the RIP challenge technically ended last week with Halloween, I had one more week of ghostly short stories to enjoy. As with past weeks, I enjoyed how each of the stories I read had a different feel. Walter de La Mare’s story was probably my least favorite of the week, but I enjoyed each story (also including stories by Penelope Lively, Alison Lurie, and Ray Bradbury) to some degree. (None of these stories are in the public domain, so I cannot link to them for you.)Continue Reading
Although October is over, I still have a few more RIP short stories to share about. I really put off writing today’s post simply because of the five stories I read, I didn’t really enjoy three of them and the other two (both rereads) are ones I like but still didn’t completely understand. I bet you can guess which ones fit in that category.
I’ll begin with the two that I really like, despite the confusion I felt as I reread them. The first is Vladimir Nabokov’s “The Visit to the Museum.” In this story, a man goes to a museum on the request of a friend to purchase one of it’s paintings. When he meets with the museum director, however, he in essence is taken into his worst nightmare. This story seems pretty straight forward, and it is wonderfully written. The narrator’s confusion and frustration is magnified as I read, since I deal with claustrophobia myself. At any rate, it’s a frustrating story to read, but as with most of Nabokov’s stories (I haven’t read his novels yet), it is a masterpiece. I do recommend it.
The next story is Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Circular Ruins.” A man approaches some ancient ruins with one goal in mind: to dream a person into creation. If that sounds like an odd premise, trust me, it is. As when I read Borges the last time, this story was marvelously confusing, and yet, I enjoyed reading it more than I did last time. As I read great literature, I am impressed by the author’s ability to capture a confusing premise in mere words: words which I struggle to grasp control over. Reading great literature is a challenge: I need to reread Borges more often to better appreciate it.
The other three stories were less engaging for me. Maybe I’m getting tired of reading short stories? I’ve found I go through phases and every time I try to do a short story reading project I tire of it by the end. Nevertheless, my first works by these authors were still good.
Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Happy Autumn Fields” took one woman named Mary into a dream or ghost-like experience with her predecessors Sarah and Henrietta. It’s a strange take on the term “ghost story” and because the scene starts in the middle, I was quite confused for the beginning of the story. In Eudora Welty’s “Clytie,” the titular character was haunted by faces. She intrigued me, but I never felt completely connected to Clytie. Her life story was a sad one, and I wanted to better understand her. Finally, Elizabeth Taylor’s “Poor Girl” focused on a haunted governess, over which her young seven-year-old charge seemed to have power. I am drawn to stories of governesses (as I read this story, I remembered that I need to reread The Turn of the Screw) and this was an interesting take. As I ended, I wondered as I often have on reading these ghost stories just what happened. This was another creepy tale of a haunted life.
(These stories are not in the public domain).
I have one more week (four more stories) of RIP short stories from my Everyman’s Ghost Stories volume. It’s been fun to see how classic authors and the editor of this volume have interpreted “ghost stories.” It goes to show that although I am a “please don’t scary me” person, there are plenty of spooky-ish stories that work just fine in bring the season to life.
I’m not sure which volume of stories, essays, or poems I’ll tackle after this one, but I like having something a little different to report on each week.
This week’s short stories were fantastic. One was hilarious (bet you can guess which one) and two (the Wodehouse and the Hartley) seemed directly related to each other since they were both about writers of fiction. (Unfortunately, the stories I read this week are not in the public domain, so I can’t link to them for you.)
I don’t want to reveal too much about these three stories, so I’ll keep this brief. In P.G. Wodehouse’s “Honeysuckle Cottage” (written 1925), a London man, a writer of detective/thriller novels, inherits the country house of his now deceased aunt, who wrote romance novels. When he resides in the country home, however, he finds that it is haunted. I haven’t read much Wodehouse, but I know what I’ve read was funny, and this was no exception. The situation was ridiculous and I loved the haunted aspect of his life. Was this really happening or was it coincidence? At any rate, Wodehouse’s tone is light and fun, and the story was an enjoyable read. I love this type of ghost story! (Story not in the public domain.)
L.P. Hartley’s “W.S.” (published 1952) is also about a writer. In his case, the author begins receiving mysterious notes from an unknown person named W.S. As his anxiety increases, he begins to realize that he does know the identity of the man coming toward him – and he doesn’t want to meet him in person. While Wodehouse’s story was humorous, this one was intense. The ultimate resolution is a creepy one for the writer to consider. I greatly enjoyed this story, maybe because it wasn’t horrifically terrifying, just a bit creepy. (Story not in the public domain.)
Edith Wharton’s “The Looking Glass” (published 1937?) goes a different direction, focusing on interaction through a medium with a dead person. One woman, a massage therapist, takes advantage of her rich employer, who is obsessed with how old she looks and spends hours looking in the mirror every day. Using her power of persuasion, the massage therapist convinces the old woman that she can communicate with the dead; as the old woman begins looking younger, the therapist begins to have some supernatural interactions that she didn’t quite expect. I must admit that Wharton’s story did not stand out to me this week. I’ve greatly enjoyed Wharton’s writing in the past, and in fact I recently finished a novella by Wharton that I liked, but this story just didn’t have enough creepiness or satisfaction. It was just an okay story. Maybe I felt that way because the other two stories I read this week were simply fantastic. (Story not in the public domain.)
Which of these stories have you read? Have you read other stories by these authors? Which did you like?
Time for three more RIP Stories! I am loving the Ghost Stories collection I have from Everyman’s simply because they are addressing so many different kinds of ghost stories. I’ve really enjoyed the majority of them so far.
Saki’s “The Open Window” was my favorite ghost story from my collection so far. It’s was quite short but Saki managed to create characters we liked, with distinct attitudes from one another. The dialog was realistic. This story was not a spooky story at all: it had ghosts, but with a delightful touch of humor. Because it was only a few pages long, I’ll refer you to the etext.
Because I had never come across M.R. James before, I felt the need to read a little about him after reading his short story “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.” Wikipedia tells me that he redefined the ghost story, by using realistic contemporary settings, rather than Gothic settings, as previous ghost stories had done. I really appreciated the setting in the Whistle story. Parkins, a professor of Ontography (a study of the nature of things), travels to a sea-side hotel for a week of golfing, agreeing in the preface to also visit a nearby former graveyard site for an antiquarian friend. I was quite interested in the story from the very beginning. It begins in the middle of a conversation, and M.R. James refers to one of those participating in the conversation as “a person not in the story.” This made me wonder at M.R. James’ purposes, and I loved how the entire subject of “nature of things” was questioned as the ghost story unfolded. This was a delightful spooky-ish story on a misty beach front. Read it online here.
Katherine Mansfield’s “The Daughters of the Late Colonel” was simply wonderful. I definitely need to read more of Mansfield’s writing. Two elderly spinster sisters are dealing with the death of their father. After probably more than 50 years of submitting to their father’s wishes, they struggle to find their own opinions. Although this story is once again of a different type of ghost story from the gothic or horror tradition, I really loved reading it: the characters, setting, flashbacks, and haunting scenes were perfectly rendered and the story as a whole is nearly a masterpiece. I wanted it to keep going. Read it online.
Question: I’m finding it’s quite challenging to discuss the great stories I read in a short post. Would you, as a reader of this blog, be more interested in a single review of the rest of the book? Or, should I keep talking about the stories a few at a time? Do you like these brief short stories roundups? I may just do what I want anyway, but I’m curious to know your thoughts.
Next up in the Ghost Stories collection: P.G. Wodehouse, L.P. Hartley, and Edith Wharton.